top of page

On the Initiation Model of the Lukumí and the Cost of Initiations

How much is too much to pay?

The iddé is a representation of priesthood.
Iddé for Eleguá initiate.

The path to the priesthood in Santería, La Regla de Osha, Lukumí, or Orisha call it what you will, is paved with derechos (fees) and thus, it would be advisable to walk it with care and not haste. There are different ways to go about becoming a Santería initiate and please do not confuse the cost from the Diaspora version of our rites and rituals, to the way in which things are done in West Africa or following Traditional Yoruba. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus solely on New World practices.

However, since the modern day Lukumí did not come out of the ether, it is important to understand the historical parameters that brought about our current initiation model. In West Africa, a person would receive back then what is known as ‘Head-and-Feet ,’ or the practice of giving an initiate The Warriors (Elegguá, Osun, Ochosi and Oggun) and his/her tutelary Orisha. This was the norm in West Africa where an initiate of Yemayá, for example, would get that Orisha and would become part of a community dedicated solely to the service of Yemayá.

Now, for a moment try and see the world from the perspective of a slave or even a freedman who just got his or her liberty and was trying to maintain a religious identity and tradition alive. That was the situation among other pioneers who steered a reform, such as Master Oriaté Nicolás Valentín Angarica who was taught by the brilliant Obadimelli, Octavio Samar; and Efuché, Ñá Rosalía. Was their reform, to introduce the Four Pillars Model, a meeting of the minds, readily accepted by everyone? Possibly not, but in the end it was a pragmatic decision that helped to preserve many Orishas that could have been lost and, to shape the Lukumí practices as we know them. These and other pioneers had to deal with very practical matters such as the fact that the life expectancy of slaves was short due to the brutal conditions they faced. Therefore, having specialized communities to the service of ONE Orisha was highly impractical in a world where little was under their control.

The ‘Head-and-Feet’ model thus evolved to become what is known as the Four Pillars. This means receiving the Warriors, the head Orisha and the most commonly worshiped orishas: Obatalá, Yemayá, Oshún and Shangó. If the head Orisha was included among that list, fine. Otherwise the person would have a 5th Orisha received.

Modern Day Practices

There are many steps that a neophyte must take to achieve the level of initiation of priesthood. The first steps are usually the Elekes (necklaces), the Warriors, and in houses that are Ifá-centric the Ikofá for women and the Awofaka for men. Sometimes there are addimú (orishas that are not given in the Kariosha initiation as part of the Four Pillars) Orisha that are received before making Kariosha (priesthood initiation), the most common ones are Olokún, Babalú Aiyé and Orisha Oko. Each of these steps has associated fees related to them.

Finally, there is the Kariosha initiation, and that has a series of subsequent steps to be met within the year after the initiation and they involve additional and significant costs. Those steps are Ebbó Meta (3 months Ebbó), presentation to Batá, receiving the Igbodú and the first anniversary celebration.

After that whirl wind of activity subsides, the new priest must face additional costs depending on the Orishas that he or she must receive during the course of his or her lifetime. No one needs to run and get all the Orishas at once because it would be senseless.

Each initiation presents the possibility of resolving major issues in the life of a priest. If all initiations are utilized at once, then, what is left to uplift the initiate in times of emergency?

Additional initiations include receiving Pinaldo, the knife. This is an important step for those priests that have the skills and calling to become masters of ceremonies or Oriatés. Back in the early days in Cuba, women who were no longer menstruating were also great Oriatés, among them we can list Teresita Ariosa, Ení Oshún; Guillermina Castel, and Timotea Albear, Ayayí La Tuán who was an iyalosha queen in Havana and until her death in 1935 remained exercising her functions as Oriaté, but nowadays chauvinists attitudes do as much as possible to silence the voice of women at the head of the mat. But that is another story…

It is important to mention that women also receive Pinaldo, a ceremony innovated by priestess Efuché, but they are seldom seen killing four-leg animals at Kariosha as this is the realm of the male dominated Oriaté world. Therefore, perhaps the true value of the Pinaldo for women has been relegated to having the opportunity to receive a second Itá (lifetime reading) to reinforce or expand on what was told originally during their Kariosha.

One last initiation main is left, and it is for those males who have the path open to Ifá. Such initiation in the Americas is perhaps the most costly of all.

Let’s Talk Money

There are very many diligent and honest priests who do their best to keep costs down. There are some who live off the religion and still do not go about gouging people for money. However, there are some who are greedy and overcharge initiates while cutting corners and skipping ceremony steps.

Money is a delicate issue. I like to have things well done, people well paid and ceremonies performed flawlessly. Quality initiations do not need to be redone. Responsible oloshas know what to charge and are normally very fair.

As a godmother, I like to see my godchildren as what they are, part of my house. They are not transactions; they are not the means to pay the monthly bills for I am a professional woman who does not depend on the religion to support my livelihood. But that is me. I have seen unscrupulous oloshas who like to create all sorts of excuses to gouge money out of godchildren and whose houses are overran by iyawós who do not know that the Lukumí religion came from West Africa.

Oh yes, I remember this Mexican- American iyawó sitting by me at a Wemilere in Dallas, Texas (Orisha batá drum party) who insisted that the Lukumí came from MEXICO from the Aztecs. Hats off to those godparents on singlehandedly moving a chunk of the continent of Africa into Mexico, and with it, all the history and culture of the Lukumí! She did not even know what the world ‘Elekes’ meant! The point is, make sure you get your moneys ‘worth. Godparents are supposed to teach up to the level of responsibility that each initiation carries it with.

One other case of particular interest since we are in the subject of moneys, is one I remember where on a monthly basis this Olo Obatalá would hold spiritual masses at his/her (not saying the gender) house and would force all godchildren to attend. Invariably, there was some mass ebbó (working) or cleansing that needed to be done immediately. One wonders, how convenient is to have these issues of massive cleansings just about the time when the end of the month rolls by… One would think that after a few months of these cleansings everyone’s life would be in tip-top shape!

The Elekes

When it comes to the Lukumí, the least expensive of all of these ceremonies is the Elekes. It is a beautiful process comparable to that of a baptism, where the neophyte for the first time has his/her head prepared for the Orisha and at the end the colors of the house are presented in the form or beaded necklaces with the patterns and colors of the orishas received by his/her main godparent which can be a male or a female depending on the choice of the initiate. There is also a secondary godparent known as the Oyugbonakán. This person does most of the work in the ceremony.

The ceremony of the Elekes fluctuates from $250 to $350, but I have heard of people charging as much as $1,000. What truly bothers me is when I see Elekes being given to initiates that obviously were not even made by the Godparent. They are just bought at a Botánica (Santería curio shop), and prepared according to tradition. This is troublesome to me at many levels. First, the act of stringing the beads is one of meditation and devotion where the ashé (divine life force) coming out of my hands will touch for years to come my new initiate. When I do an eleke I am in a meditative state of mind, I want no chatter, no distractions because I am praying for the new initiate; concentration is a must when preparing to open the path of a person about to join a house. This is the first nexus to be shared, the first time something of mine and my Orisha will come to this person’s life. The other troublesome bit about buying stuff of a shelf comes from having just generic patterns and colors that are not those of the paths or avatars that the main godparent wears. After all, those beads speak without a voice. Their colors and patterns say to other initiates, “My godmother has Yemayá Achagbá, her Oshun is Ibú Ikonlé, her Obatalá is Babá Ashó, she protects me with Shangó (usually its pattern is pretty standard and no avatars are determined, but some houses do), and her Eleggua also blesses me.” In my case, these are the banners of my house and the first thing people see in godchildren. Other oloshas may differ but I am quite set in my ways.

The Warriors are given to the aleyo (believer) by an olosha (male priest), or, they can be given by an Awó Orunmila. Either way is fine by me. Both oloshas and awós have their grace and both should be respected and not pitted against one another like it is the habit of many who like to endlessly debate who gives a better and finer set of Warriors. In any case the costs fluctuate from $350 to $500 and once again, I have seen them go higher.

Bear in mind the following things when considering initiations. An initiation is more than a material investment, it is a sign of commitment to the Orisha and for that you must place your trust in a household. Negotiating is fine as long as you receive a quality product and there is fairness for both sides. Do consider that godparents paid their dues long time ago and have invested in many other steps to prepare as they should to guide you. Cheap is as cheap does, quality has a cost and if you are dead set in chain store low prices, you will possibly be cheating yourself along the way. On the other hand, expensive not always means you get more than someone who paid a third of what you did.

Bottom line, no pun intended, invest as you can in yourself and keep the lines of communications open with your godparents. I am sure that she or he would not mind explaining costs associated with whatever initiation you are about to receive, after all, it is your spiritual destiny and your pocketbook.

I will continue to write about the costs of other initiations, but for now, this I believe is enough fuel for thought.


I published this article nearly eight years ago, however, the content remains as relevant as when I posted on Sept. 5, 2010. Actually, the reality is that initiations have gone up in cost and now there are even more people willing to profit and to charge as much as the market can yield. Some other ones, like me, still see the process as a sacred one and remain steadfast to values and to reasonable costs.

Omimelli, Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Responses from the original post on blog.themysticcup

29 thoughts on “On the Initiation Model of the Lukumí and the Cost of Initiations”

  1. Babalawo Sangodare Egunjobi Ifasina says:September 6, 2010 at 4:15 amE ku Se ! ( Thank you for this quantitative and quality of this narrative). I am a Babalawo of the IFA/Orisha traditiona of Nigeria. I’m glad that you have touched upon a PROBLEM that exist is THE IFA/ORISHA of Nigeria,Lukumi/Santeria,and Condomble communities. Indeed IFA speaks truly,” One must travel far to find a good AWO”-EJIOGBE( Awo in this sense means ANYONE that is fully initiated to the any of the 501 Orisha)

  2. Omimelli says:September 6, 2010 at 11:50 amBabá Sangodare Egunjobi Ifasina,’ Modupué for your words and thank you for stopping by and reading. Investing in relationships and not transactions is crucial to our traditions. Relationships grown over time and cemented in trust will outlast the hardships our communities endure and help us develop our persons as better human beings and servitors of Ifá/Orisha. Odabo! Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

    1. aba yo emei eye says:July 13, 2014 at 8:12 amawo iboru, awo iboya, awo obosheshe. thanks for been present into this conversation and ashe.

    2. Z says:February 21, 2017 at 6:28 pmHello i would like to ask a question. When you recieve la mano de orula do you have to become santera or can i just stay on this level and not go further?

  3. T says:December 2, 2011 at 10:33 pmAche,,, ty. Great info for any newcomer!

  4. TALABI says:December 5, 2011 at 2:32 pmMaferefun Ocha, Modupre In most instances we all felt confused and at times ambivilent. I was crowned for my health nothing more and appreciate your honest candor, regarding those who take advantage of the Iyawo. Hekua Baba.

    1. Omimelli says:December 6, 2011 at 3:48 amTalabi Modupue for coming to visit the blog and participating. I am sure you have found in the orisha a great blessing and of course, health. Hope you continue to participate, Omimelli February 10, 2012 at 3:10 am $750 a average price to being indicated?

    2. Omimelli says:February 10, 2012 at 3:14 amPan It depends on what you are receiving. Omimelli

  5. Chleo says:March 22, 2013 at 9:27 pmSome people pay about $10,000 to be fully initiated in Santeria. This excludes the Warriors and Elekes. Kariocha is costly because of the many things that are required including animals, room, offerings and things the Godparent needs for the process.

  6. jose says:October 8, 2013 at 3:00 pmIm getting charged $450 for elekes.

    1. Anthony Morales says:January 14, 2014 at 1:53 pmim am bieng charged 350

    2. donna says:February 24, 2014 at 3:15 pmI am being charged $800 for warriors and elekes. Is that okay?

    3. aba yo emei eye says:July 13, 2014 at 8:07 amyes the price is not call price and am sorry its not considered a products as miss omimelli mentioned its more likely a great initiation which should be done properly, let me told you something every godfather was his own derecho to any aleyo or believer and most cases its right many people are doing this by business but not all of then ! so advise to every one that who spoke bad about other into its same religion have not values at all, because as all we know every mistake that a godfather commit will be the orishas the only one who can judge then by respect to the religion in respect to the orishas who have been crown any head no bady should talk any bad comment about any who have santo made because the santo its the only one who can talk about what his doing fine or wrong. ashe.

  7. sage says:August 3, 2014 at 8:03 amThank you. This information is helpful and feels grounded in reality.


  9. Leticia Saldana says:November 6, 2014 at 4:24 ami like how u express everything , its so hard for this money to come though please help me find my answer to solving , this money matter its so hard and i want to get crowned , i have run out on people because they dont do things right i know , maybe thats why i cant save money , and cant get there i have all my soup bowls and things, but the money.

    1. Omimelli says:June 10, 2015 at 12:37 amLeticia I think your time has not come just yet. Are you sure you have the right ilé and the right godparents? Are you sure you are ready to place the orisha ahead of anything else and anyone else in your life? Omimelli

  10. rick says:May 24, 2015 at 7:08 amI am being charged 1800 by a Babalawo for the ita reading, the gerreros and the mano de orula. In a ceremony that lasts 3 days and involves 3 babalawos. Is that okay?

    1. Omimelli says:June 9, 2015 at 1:17 pmRich, How do you feel with this awó? Is he the kind of godparent you want for life? More so than money, this is a lifetime choice. Have you met other children from his house? Have you been at social events with other people there? I am warning you not to jump into something if you have not observed carefully first. This is more important than the price tag, which is a bit high, but then again you are getting 3 initiations if this also includes the elekes. Do you need all three at once? Can you not do this step by step? Omimelli

  11. Petra Cayman says:August 24, 2015 at 2:49 amHi I am curious,do orishas give free spiritual help? And if not, how costly can the material b for works or rituals performed b?

  12. Ruth Walters says:April 9, 2016 at 7:36 pmHow much is the average price to receive your Orisha, mine is Santo.

  13. Ruth Walters says:April 9, 2016 at 7:37 pmMy Orisha is Shango

  14. Matt says:August 17, 2016 at 8:36 pmGreat informative article! I’ve been interested in Orisha worship for a long time. But I live in a small town in MA, and there is no where close for me to get a consulta. I was wondering if anyone knows of a honest Olosha or Babalawo in the Boston area where I could make an appointment for a reading? I am ready to serve the Orisha and put them before everything as long as the Orisha even want me. I’m willing to drive anywhere around Massachusetts or close by states to make this work… I’ve started to work with my ancestors but would like to be able to do it in the traditional Lukumi way… Any information would help and I would greatly appreciate it 😃

    1. Yemaya Okute says:September 15, 2016 at 5:20 pmHey. Send me your email and I will send you information

  15. Migdalia,lopez says:August 22, 2016 at 6:08 pmCan you tell me if a person travels with their Santos and loses them how do they go about replacing them thank you

  16. Jenn says:September 16, 2016 at 4:11 amHey I dont know anyone around that practice the religion so i wanted to know how do i go about getting initiated

  17. Jay says:September 30, 2016 at 6:44 amI’ve heard of a thing aleyos do with a Obatala sopera to tell him the person is ready for santo can you tell me what this is, and what is consist of ?

  18. Joseph Dooley says:March 2, 2017 at 9:00 amHello, Thank you for the valuable information. I’m 33 years old, live in Illinois and am in a PhD program in Jungian Psychology where I’m studying courses in world religions. My goal is to be initiated into Santeria and or become a Babalawo Priest if its meant to be. Is there anyone that can offer consultations or services? Want to help others and make a difference while living a spiritual life. Thank you.

118 views0 comments


bottom of page